Singapore looks to go from energy waster to green-building maker

By Bhavan Jaipragas, AFP

SINGAPORE — From the bone-chilling air conditioning that pumps through Singapore’s malls and offices to lights that burn all night, the city-state is one of Asia’s most intensive energy users.

Nearly all electricity used by the industrialized island is produced by burning fossil fuels, which in 2010 contributed to the largest carbon footprint per head in the Asia-Pacific region, according to conservation group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

South Korea and third-placed Japan follow close behind.

For environmentalists, the scenario is all too familiar in the Asia region whose urban population is set to soar from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion by 2050 according to United Nations data.

Such growth puts sustainability on top of the agenda but critics say Asia’s megacities are not doing enough to curb their voracious appetite for energy, with Singapore having been recognized as one of the worst offenders. The WWF added that buildings contribute some 16 percent of Singapore’s carbon emissions.

While the city-state contends that the WWF’s per capita measurement of carbon emissions “disadvantages countries with small populations” — compared to the likes of rapidly industrializing China — it has nevertheless been spurred into action.

In 2005, the government embarked on a project to promote the development of high-tech, low-energy buildings and the retrofitting of older ones in a push to “green” at least 80 percent of all buildings by 2030. Since then 1,000 government-certified green buildings have been built in Singapore, accounting for 13 percent of gross floor space in the country. Along with cash incentives, developers who meet targets set by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) are given more leeway to have bigger floor areas. United World College Southeast Asia, an international school, is one of the torchbearers of the drive. “Many new buildings are savagely overdesigned, wasting capital and upkeep costs. If you rationalize your design and spend on green technology, the savings are going to be immense,” said Simon Thomas, its director of operations and facilities.